I know that many of you know I’ve been an outspoken critic of the nonprofit Respectability and their CEO, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, but I’ve never actually outlined what happened publicly other than to vaguely say that they appropriated my work, used it for their own gain and promotion, and harassed me by sending spies on my social media after I blocked all of the leadership in the organization. There have been a lot of other accusations about the organization and Jennifer since then, and with a lot of them revolving around racism I’ve wanted to support Disabled Black and Brown folks already enduring this treatment from a slew of disability led organizations.
But now is the time for me to speak up. It’s time for me to tell you exactly what they did, why it’s so harmful, and why I made it my mission to make sure no other disabled people are harmed by her and this organization.
It was in early 2016 when the president of the Academy of Motion Pictures made a statement in response to the outcry for more inclusion of all marginalized people in Hollywood. Her response mentioned every marginalized group except disabled people. Disabled people are virtually invisible in Hollywood, and many of us have been fighting sometimes for decades or longer, for inclusion.
Nobody was talking about this, so I, knowing I have a platform, a background in film and marginalized representation (I have a BFA in Film Production, but took a lot of theory and independent classes where I focused specifically on marginalized representation), and knowledge on the subject wrote a blog exposing this gross injustice. This mobilized the disability community.
At the time, a popular way to dispense information and protest especially for the disability community who can’t always get out and protest, was to hold online Twitter chats. My #FilmDis hashtag was at the forefront of disability hashtag activism, and as such, I planned an #OscarsDISs chat/protest to bring the disability community together to call out our exclusion. It was to be held during the Oscars in protest of our exclusion, and we would be holding one every year until we got better representation.
Here is the article:
Things got very busy leading up to the Oscars, and shortly before someone sent me to a link to a website by an organization I had never heard of, Respectability. It was literally a day or two before the Oscars and they were promoting a culturally appropriating hashtag #OscarsSoAble, Without my permission they were using my words and my article to do so. I was also contacted by Lauren Appelbaum, Jennifer’s second-in-command.
They loved my article and my words and wanted to use them, although they already had used them without my permission, to promote their new event… the #OscarsSoAble Twitter chat that would be held during the Oscars, right during my chat. Respectability was still very new in these circles, so it ended up splitting up the disability community and instead of making any type of splash or going viral so that more people would see it and understand what we were fighting for, it ended up dividing us.
I told Lauren that hashtag was culturally appropriative of #OscarsSoWhite. I told her it was not okay for them to use my words or my work to promote an event that was going to clash with my own work and event. Not only was I disregarded, she used my hashtag to promote Respectability’s during the chat. She also continued to message me asking me to retweet what they were saying, having total disregard with the fact that I was incredibly upset that my event was ruined by hers.
On a side note, she is not the only person to appropriate my work surrounding #OscarsDISs or our live chat. As a transgender disabled person, I have very little agency in the disability community and massive amounts of disabled people have continuously supported other work surrounding the issue of disability in Hollywood and the Oscars, while ignoring my own, which wouldn’t have become known to our community had I not raised these issues to begin with. I hope you can understand how frustrating and painful this has been. I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to really speak out about this publicly, because I don’t feel I have very much support in the disability community surrounding these kinds of issues.
Still, we continue to have #OscarsDISs chats every single year during the Oscars, even with others trying to take over and appropriate the work. Despite that, I, against my better judgment, reached out to every single one of them trying to work with them, together, in hopes that it wouldn’t split up the disability like Respectability. None of them will work with me, and I’ve even been accused of appropriating the work I started, by people who don’t understand the history behind this.
I digress. After the Oscars, Jennifer herself republished the article from her Respectability website on Huffington Post, and not only does she quote me, there is no credit for my work. She didn’t even share the article, which I did tell her not to share, but this is even more deceitful. It makes people think I gave her permission to use my words, and that I, in turn, support her horrible work and hashtag. She also encourages people to use #OscarsSoAble, the same way I did #OscarsDISs in my original article. After that, I found staff members of Respectability suddenly retweeting a lot of the work I was doing and I took steps to block Jennifer, Lauren, and anyone I knew was associated with Respectability.
Transcript of the section highlighted reads:
Dominick Evans is a director/filmmaker with a disability who runs weekly #FilmDis chats on the exclusion of people with disabilities in film. He has called for Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs to include all when discussing diversity in her response to #OscarsSoWhite.
Full article here: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/oscarssoable-and-the-fail_b_9334428
“Until we are included in all aspects of the industry, those of us with disabilities will continue to be treated like second-class citizens,” Evans said. He’s calling for everyone to contact the Academy to urge Isaacs to add people with disabilities to her list of minority communities to include in film.
It wasn’t enough that I blocked them on social media, but they started sending other people to follow me. Fellows. Staff. Lauren and Jennifer kept sending me emails, wanting me to work with them despite me asking them to leave me alone repeatedly. Then Jennifer began using her wealth and influence to try to get me to work with them. She started sending reporters, to use me as a source, and then would message me saying how great it was that she was sending reporters to me. Depending on the reporter I would sometimes respond, and if I did I would take all of my time with them outlining why they should never work with Respectability, and how I felt like they were trying to bribe or blackmail me so they could use it against me that they were giving me media opportunities. Eventually, she stopped sending anything, thankfully, but it was too late.
It was during this year, later in the year that more of her racism was exposed, through groups like the Harriet Tubman Collective. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the primarily white led disability organizational leadership, who many of us reached out to, to encourage them to make a statement condemning this harmful disability organization, have remained publicly silent about all the harmful abuse, theft, and appropriation by Respectability.
So why am I speaking out now? Why am I sharing my story? As a transgender disabled person who’s had work stolen over and over again, often by other disabled people and Disability-led organizations, I sometimes feel like as much as I have a voice not everybody is listening. I feel like my life as a transgender disabled person is not considered as worthwhile as other disabled people. I didn’t think my story was important enough to tell, until now. I don’t want other disabled people who are multiply marginalized to experience the mistreatment, or to have their work they’ve been trying so hard to do be stolen right from out under them.
It can take a lot to do work, especially online where you have to be more creative about what you do. I work very hard to educate people about disability representation and share the many years of accumulated knowledge I’ve made through study, making films myself, and more. I spent many years in college getting a degree, and learning about representation in its many forms, and to have that work and my knowledge exploited and ripped off is incredibly invalidating.
What I want is for all of you to know the truth, and to understand that even more horrible things have been happening to multiply marginalized disabled people at the hands of Respectability and its CEO, Jennifer Mizrahi. Here are some of the things she has been doing:
Transcript for video here: